An Interview with Cheoah Paddlers

The Cheoah River, or at least its riverbed, has tantalized boaters for decades, a great but "rarely available" run. The paddling community working around the Nantahala River, because of their proximity, has had a better chance than others to experience this incredible whitewater. Here follows a short conversation with long-time western North Carolina paddlers Homer King (manufacturer of Silver Creek paddles) and Billy Richards, two who have enjoyed and remember some of the special days when the timing was right.

When do you recall first hearing about this stretch as a good whitewater run?

HK: Back as long ago as 1978, when I still worked at the (Nantahala Outdoor) Center, we always thought about running the Cheoah as a special thing... IF there was water in it, IF you knew about it at the right time, IF you would get the chance to run it.

At what levels have you paddled the Cheoah?

HK: Down to about six or seven hundred CFS, if that... up to about 5,500 CFS, above the bridge at Big Fat Gap.... the whole thing around 3,000 cfs.

BR: Few times at just natural flow, maybe 500 cfs. And then a few times when they were spilling out of the dam- maybe 1500 cfs. I liked it a lot better at the higher flows and I actually thought it was a little easier. I'm definitely guessing at these water levels.

How would you describe this run?

HK: I guess you could call it similar to the Ocoee. But in the gorge it is about one and a half times as steep. It's certainly a river to be respected. Any level can be dangerous, but for me, I have had only good, pleasant, fun experiences there. I'd call it a good Class IV. But like always, that depends on the water level.

BR: Yes, similar to the Ocoee with a little more tilt. Not as big but more continuous than the Gauley. After you go under the bridge at Tapoco Lodge it kind of reminds me of Lost Paddle on the Gauley. It's challenging, but when you get into the swing of it, it's great fun.

Can you say anything about any particular rapids?

HK: Down in the gorge for the last two miles or so (the whole thing is maybe five miles), every drop is good. Above Big Fat Gap, I remember several rapids with really fun offset holes.

BR: There is only one rapid that really stands out in my mind. It's a really huge drop, maybe eight feet, but you can scout it really well. There is a chute down the right; as you work left, it's more vertical.

What is the neatest aspect of the run?

HK: Everything, really. The location, the setting over there near Snowbird and Slickrock, and the quality of the whitewater.

BR: It is just a wonderful stretch of river.

Can you think of a negative aspect of the Cheoah?

HK: It never runs.